'All people matter'
Social justice advocate discusses importance of social work careers
A presentation on Tuesday for Grand Valley State University students studying social work reminded the audience of the key to their career: caring about others and themselves in order to see a change in the world.
The event, “All People Matter,” was presented by the Bachelor of Social Work Student Organization and featured keynote speaker Don Cooley and four faculty presentations. Cooley is a social justice advocate and has worked on U.S. and foreign policy, including work with Nelson Mandela on the Apartheid.
“All people matter — that is what we are supposed to be about as social workers,” Cooley said. “That is why we are in this, because we believe that all people matter. Unfortunately that is not what society believes.”
Cooley said society suggests that we all matter, but this belief is not put into practice.
“Part of our job is changing the structures of this society so that people have structures that nurture them and help them to get the supports that they need to succeed,” Cooley said.
The students were reminded that they have not chosen an easy career path, but they were encouraged and told of the importance of their choice.
Professors from the department of social work shared their experiences with the students and gave them practices and thoughts to take away and implement into their future career.
Professor Steve McCleary walked students through a mindfulness practice.
“Mindfulness is awareness of present experience with acceptance,” McCleary said. “This practice is a way of working with attention to harness the brain’s ability to self-soothe.”
McCleary said mindfulness is not just something he has his patients practice, but it is also an important practice for himself that prevents hims from becoming overwhelmed by work.
“Our attention is continuously pulled back to whatever our trouble is,” McClearly said. “If we practice mindfulness, we are more connectable.”
Brian Gripentrog reiterated for students the importance of this concept.
“I am also a human being, too, and I matter,” Gripentrog said. “If I am not taking care of me, how can I help someone else walk through their problems?”
Gripentrog said part of helping people is providing hope, but hope starts with taking care of yourself.
“Every one of you matters,” he said. “Everybody here who wants to be a social worker has a similar story.”
Gripentrog, along with the other speakers, emphasized that social work is not just another monotonous career, but a choice based on a desire to help others and a belief that all people matter.
“Being a social worker isn’t just nine-to-five,” Gripentrog said. “It becomes a way of life because of who you are and who you have always been.”
Professor Dianne Green-Smith built off Gripentrog’s words by sharing the story of how she became a social worker, emphasizing that each story is similar but unique.
“We all have a journey and a story,” Green-Smith said. “You don’t have to look for it; it will hit you smack in the face. My journey is my journey, and your journey is yours.”